By Lauren Piette
Becoming a Navy SEAL is no small feat. As a Navy SEAL candidate, one must have extreme discipline to complete the necessary rigorous physical and mental requirements. The Navy recruits over 40,000 individuals per year, yet only half have a chance at passing the basic requirements and moving on to training. From there, the hard part is long from over. Only 1 in 4 SEAL candidates will complete their training and join other active SEALs. Many drop out of the program or are forced out, but a tragic case has recently shone a light on a Navy SEAL training accident that took the life of a young man named Kyle Mullen. This tragic Navy SEAL training accident prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to take action, and an amendment aimed at improving medical care and high-stress military training program oversight for all members of the military was passed in mid-July of 2022. Let’s look back on the tragic death of Kyle Mullen that prompted this government action.

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Navy SEALs Hell Week Is Hell on Earth

Who Is Kyle Mullen and What Was His Role in the Navy SEAL Training Accident?

Kyle Mullen was born and raised in Manalapan Township, New Jersey. He graduated from Manalapan High School in 2015 and was a star defensive lineman and tight end on his high school football team, receiving regional all-star and conference Defensive Player of the Year honors. His impressive 4.2 GPA and athletic career landed him a spot at Yale University, where he was a standout defensive end. For Kyle Mullen, Yale was only the beginning. As a postgraduate, Mullen played football for another season at Monmouth University. After completing the season and getting his degree, Mullen told his coaches that he was going into the military and was going to fulfill his long-term goal of becoming a Navy SEAL. Mullen joined the Navy in 2021 and started active duty on March 29 of that year. He began his Naval career at Great Lakes training command, and, from June to July 2021, he was completing pre-Basic Underwater Demolition training. He started Basic Training Command SEAL/SWCC on July 23, 2021. Kyle entered “Hell Week” at the end of January 2022.

Death in Hell Week

Navy SEALs Hell Week is aptly named, as this six-week gauntlet is truly hell on earth. On top of the intense training drills, recruits must overcome physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and bone-chilling conditions to sharpen their skills and see who has the chops to go the distance. With Sailors being pushed to their breaking point, it comes as no surprise that Hell Week is riddled with risks and dangerous injuries (cuts and bruises, hypothermia, pneumonia, exhaustion, and memory loss from calorie deprivation). But for some candidates, the risk is much higher. During all BUD/s evolutions, there is an ambulance on standby in case of a medical emergency. Navy SEAL corpsmen are able to provide medical assistance, and medical personnel are present to conduct full-body checks to evaluate for infected cuts, signs of pneumonia, and disease. However, the widespread mentality during Navy SEAL Hell Week is to “suck up the pain” and carry on, and trainees are often inclined to hide or deal with injuries while in training, even when they’re life-threatening.

The “Hell Week” Accident

In the days leading up to Kyle’s death, he was in close contact with his mother, Regina. After proving his mettle on written and physical tests, Kyle was selected to finish his final stage of initiation at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Kyle’s mother explained how she was worried for her son from the beginning, dating back to his first day of training in August of 2021. Kyle told his mother about the rigorous training exercises they were doing in the heat without access to drinking water. On the brink of collapse, Kyle completed the drill, as for him, waiting another two years to try and re-enlist as a SEAL was not an option. During that day, Kyle developed heat stroke, dehydration, and rhabdomyolysis, where the muscles break down and go into your bloodstream, potentially causing kidney blocks. Instead of being taken to the hospital, he was instructed to drink water and rest in the barracks. Kyle went on light duty and avoided strenuous activity during recovery. Leading up to Hell Week, he looked after fellow SEALs and helped them recover. Prior to the start of Hell Week, Kyle called his mother and told her that she would not be hearing from him for a week, as during Hell Week, cell phones are prohibited. By the end of the week, she received notice that Kyle had passed away, but the reason as to why was uncertain. Through her own research, Regina uncovered the tragic true story and the events leading up to the Navy SEAL training accident. During Hell Week, Kyle developed pneumonia, and the autopsy revealed that he went untreated until it was too late. The autopsy report showed that in the days leading up to his death, Kyle was in a wheelchair, unable to stand, and was coughing up enough red-tinged fluid to fill a 36-oz bottle. The lack of timely medical care ultimately was the cause of this Navy SEAL death.

A Mother’s Advocacy and Resulting Amendment

In the months after Kyle Mullen’s death, his mother, Regina Mullen, sought to reform the process through which Navy SEALs receive medical care. On July 14 of 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment aimed at improving oversight and medical care for high-stress military training programs in response to Kyle’s death. The amendment, titled the “Kyle Mullen Naval Safety Enhancements,” directs the U.S. Secretary of Defense to conduct an appraisal of current standards of military medical care. Additionally, the amendment improves medical care for those in high-stress training environments like the SEALs to prevent long-term injury, illness, and death. The amendment is to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 and has passed with bipartisan support. It furthers Regina's quest for ensuring that proper medical care is available to Navy SEAL candidates and is in honor of Mullen’s Navy SEAL training accident and the sacrifices he made for his country. At the time of this publication, the amendment has been adopted and passed by the House of Representatives. It’s now in the process of moving to the Senate for consideration.

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Image: Thomas P. Costello



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